'Aussies out' - Cup hosts hit by shock AFC revolt
Australia`s football body reeled from shock revelations about a movement to oust it from the Asian confederation on Friday as the Socceroos prepared to play the Asian Cup final.
Sydney: Australia`s football body reeled from shock revelations about a movement to oust it from the Asian confederation on Friday as the Socceroos prepared to play the Asian Cup final.
The head of Australian football said he was "extremely surprised" after Asia`s soccer chief said some countries want Australia out and advised them to raise the issue formally.
Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), told the Arabic-language Al Ittihad newspaper there was discontent about Australia in the Gulf region and more widely.
"Yes, it is true there are indications that there is a desire among West Asian federations to kick Australia out," the Bahraini royal was quoted as saying.
"But I also know that the Arabs are not the only ones who are not convinced of the usefulness of the continuation of Australia in Asia."
Shaikh Salman also referred to Australia`s presence as an "experiment". An AFC spokesman declined to comment on the report, which comes as the Socceroos prepare to play Saturday`s Asian Cup final against South Korea in Sydney.
Australia joined the AFC in 2006 and its teams have enjoyed success, qualifying for two straight World Cups and two Asian Cup finals, and winning the Champions League club showpiece last year.
Australia also won the Women`s Asian Cup in 2010. Victory on Saturday would make Australia the first country to hold both the Asian Cup and the Champions League titles.
But their presence also appears to have caused disquiet with other nations missing out on a World Cup spot and other honours.
As examples, Western Sydney Wanderers beat Saudi Arabia`s Al Hilal in the Champions League final, and the Socceroos ousted UAE in the Asian Cup semi-finals.
The issue could come to a head at the AFC Congress expected in Kuala Lumpur in May, when Shaikh Salman will seek re-election. He was first elected in 2013 by a landslide.
"This decision (Australia joining the AFC) was made years ago, before my arrival to the presidency of the AFC," Shaikh Salman was quoted as saying.
"At that time there were no conditions talking about the AFC Congress`s assessment of the experiment to see whether Australia will stay in Asia or not."
He added: "There are other Asian associations in different regions of the continent that see the need of disengagement between us and Australia.
"Therefore we can`t just monitor the feedbacks or statements, but the movement and the decision should be from within the AFC Congress, because it`s the authority that can make the decision of reconsidering Australia joining Asia or any other decision."
Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop expressed surprise over the comments, which come at the end of an Asian Cup described within the AFC as the best yet.
"We were extremely surprised to hear of these press reports from west Asia," Gallop told Fairfax newspapers.
"We are newcomers to AFC but our commitment to participate in competitions, membership of important AFC committees and general sharing of ideas and programs increases every year.
"We celebrate the diversity of the Asian region and this tournament has shown our contribution can go beyond football to create and foster social and political bridges between key trading partners in the region."
Star forward Tim Cahill also defended Australia`s contribution, with the Asian Cup`s total attendance set to touch 650,000 over 32 games in five cities.
"Politically for us I think we`ve brought a lot (to Asia)," Cahill told reporters. "If you look at all the nations that`s come to Australia and every stadium that we`ve filled together.
"The multi-culturalism that we have in this country and the way we`ve embraced football I feel is very important for the growth of the game.
"But I feel that being Australian and being who we are will always help to grow the game any country we play regardless of AFC or Europe or wherever it may be."